In real life, we often want to know which is bigger? and who has more? For children it can be very important because they feel that things should be fair. Bigness is often associated with the amount or size of a good thing that is being shared with them, whether it is the number of cookies or the size of the cookie. But those are two different types of “big,” right?
Young children often confuse different ways of describing and comparing size and amount. They think someone who is taller must be older. Most children will also say a tall, narrow glass is bigger than a short, wide one, even though they hold the same amount of water. They need to learn to name the exact attribute they are comparing.
Two books that are common in homes and classrooms are great jumping off spots for exploring these concepts. The classic Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel tells the tale of a boy with a very long name who falls down a well. The length of names is a fantastic topic that can be extended with children. You can use connecting blocks of the same size to make name towers for everyone’s name. Make sure you use one block for each letter. Then let the discussion begin:
Chang was lucky his name was shorter—How many names are the same or shorter than Chang’s? How many are longer?
What if you use last names? Whose first name is longer than the last name?
What if you clap syllables—does that change whose name is longer? (Max and Ava both have 3 letters but Ava is has 2 syllable and Max has 1).
Another great entry point for this concept is the Three Little Pigs, of which there are many great versions. Although the wolf is bigger than the pigs, the third little pig is smarter. Explain what you think is better, to be bigger or smarter. The first two pigs built their houses faster but the third pig’s house was better built and stronger? Explain what you think is better, to finish faster or to make something better and stronger. Also, you can extend the discussion by building some houses. Work together or in teams. Choose the same number of blocks, maybe 6 or 10, and then use them to build different kinds of big houses. There are many different ways to be big that you can create:
This house is higher but is not wider.
This house is just one big room.
This one is wider but is not very high.
This one is two smaller rooms.
Along the way you can engage children with descriptive language that helps children become more precise in describing and comparing sizes.
All measurement involves a “fair” comparison. More
Many different attributes can be measured, even when measuring a single object. More
As a little boy adds more and more trimmings to a snowman on each page, children can chant along and experience the growing pattern: “4 prickly pinecones, 3 striped scarves, 2 bright blue mittens, and a red cap with a gold snap.